Strength of organized medicine is in our unity

A message to all AMA members from the chair of the AMA Board of Trustees, Cecil B. Wilson, MD.

By Cecil B. Wilson, MDis an internist in private practice in Winter Park, Fla. He served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2006-07 and was AMA president during 2010-11. Posted July 3, 2006.

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Independence Day serves to remind us every year of the freedoms we share and of the responsibilities that freedom brings.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are bedrock liberties upon which any voluntary association is built. And with those freedoms, each of us in an organization of like-minded individuals bears a responsibility for good citizenship.

The American Medical Association House of Delegates is a body of diverse views, opinions, aspirations and objectives. Its purpose is to combine single members, state organizations and specialty societies in a unified voice speaking for America's physicians and the patients they serve.

We agree to disagree. But in a larger sense, we disagree in order to agree. Once decisions are made, the unified voice of medicine can speak with an authority no other organization in America can claim.

We are uncommonly successful, as our 159-year history testifies. But this year, as with each year in the past, we need to remind ourselves of the source of that success.

In a word, unity.

It is the elemental force in all successful efforts, from nations and armies to families and communities that work together in common cause.

As a corollary, of course, those who fail to work together cannot succeed.

Working together in the AMA involves the give-and-take of argument in pursuit of a common goal as we hammer out important policies and practices, and bring them to a vote.

The result is that, after the votes are counted, we unite. To do otherwise is to give aid and comfort to those who do not have our best interests at heart. Let us remember that our critics and rivals are out there, not inside the House of Medicine.

It sometimes seems to be the case that we are more comfortable being ruined by praise than saved by criticism. But the AMA has been strongest when it included honest questioning, open debate and candor tempered by judgment and good manners.

Two things we need to avoid are an uncritical blindness to alternative ideas and an unthinking pseudo-loyalty that brooks no quarter. They are as damaging as harsh invective and criticism for the sake of being critical. Both demonstrate a lack of empathy. Both foster disunity.

Fortunately, in their medical practices, physicians are the most open of individuals to new ideas, reinterpretations, questions and innovations. Our challenge is to bring that attribute to our work in organized medicine.

My hope for the year ahead is that we arrive at decisions fostered by healthy debate and implement them through the force of unity as a team.

Lou Gehrig, one of the most admired New York Yankees of all time, put it this way: "You don't get the breaks unless you play with the team instead of against it."

Our strength is in our unity.

It is a practical truth we need to take to heart in the days ahead as we advocate for what is best and battle against what is wrong. You have my assurance as I begin my year as chair of the Board of Trustees that I will exert every effort to promote unity and dispel divisiveness.

But I will need your help and suggestions along the way. I want to hear your views, especially your ideas on how to enhance unity and cooperation within the AMA.

In the end, the reason unity matters is that it benefits the profession we represent and, more important, the patients we serve.

Cecil B. Wilson, MD is an internist in private practice in Winter Park, Fla. He served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2006-07 and was AMA president during 2010-11.

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